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Sandro Botticelli

Florentine, 1446 - 1510

Filipepi, Alessandro; Botticelli; Botticelli, Alessandro

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Although there is no official record of the year and day of Botticelli's birth, scholars consider as the most reliable source his father's tax declaration that on 1 March 1447 Alessandro was two years old, making 1445 his birth year. However, according to Florentine style the year began on March 25, thus translating the year of his birth to 1446 in the modern calendar. The son of Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, Alessandro--whose nickname derives from that of his brother Giovanni, called "Botticello" (little barrel)--entered Filippo Lippi's workshop toward the end of the 1450s. The mark of Lippi's style is clearly recognizable in Sandro's earliest paintings, works such as the Madonna and Child in the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence and the Madonna and Child with an Angel in the Musée Fesch in Ajaccio. In the mid-1460s, perhaps because of Fra Filippo's departure for Spoleto in 1467, the young artist moved into the sphere of Verrocchio, whose style is reflected in another group of Botticelli's early paintings, which attest a more analytical vision, an interest in anatomy, and an attention to gestures that reveal states of mind. Works from this period include the Madonna and Child in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (no. 1298) and the Madonna and Child with Angels in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples (no. 46). His first documented commission was for the figure of Fortitude (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, no. 1606), painted in 1470 to complete the series of allegorical images created by the Pollaiuolo brothers' workshop for the Tribunale della Mercanzia. To this period also belong the Virgin against a Rose-Hedge (no. 1601) and the diptych Judith and Holofernes (nos. 1484, 1487) in the Uffizi, in which the artist's perfect mastery of drawing and skill at expressing intense emotions demonstrate the full achievement of his maturity.

In 1472 Botticelli enrolled in the Compagnia di San Luca, registering Filippino Lippi as his assistant. Filippino's presence in his workshop has given rise to debate over a group of works, attributed first to Botticelli himself, then to a fictitious "Amico di Sandro"; scholars today generally agree in ascribing them to the young Filippino, active in Botticelli's workshop. The 1470s also saw the beginning of Botticelli's close relationship with the Medici family, which resulted in a series of commissions including the Portrait of a Young Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder (Uffizi, no. 1488); the various versions of a portrait of Giuliano de' Medici (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, no. 524; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, no. 106B; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1952.5.56); the Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi, no. 882) painted for Gaspare del Lama, but also containing Medici portraits; and the Allegory of Spring, Birth of Venus, and Pallas and the Centaur (Uffizi, nos. 8360, 878, and 29 Dep), painted for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici. In 1481-1482 Botticelli was called to Rome to participate in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, where he painted, along with a series of full-length figures of popes, the Temptations of Moses, Temptations of Christ, and Conturbation of the Laws of Moses. Direct contact with the monuments of ancient Rome enriched his pictorial idiom; he framed the rhythms of his narratives with a new grandeur and naturalness, animated in the Sistine Chapel murals by the lively and complex movement of the figures and the inclusion of an extraordinary succession of portraits.

After his return to Florence, Botticelli's shop reached the height of its celebrity, and the increasing number of commissions frequently obliged the artist to delegate the execution to assistants. Works from this period include the Madonna of the Magnificat and the Virgin of the Pomegranate (Uffizi, nos. 1609, 1607), the frescoes painted for Lorenzo Tornabuoni in Villa Lemmi (now in the Louvre, nos. 1297-1298), the Bardi altarpiece of 1485 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, no. 106), and the Annunciation for the church of Cestello and Coronation of the Virgin for the chapel of Sant'Alò in San Marco (1488-1490; Uffizi, nos. 1608, 8362). In these works his luminous vision and elegant drawing dilate into more synthetic rhythms and acquire a pathos that foreshadows the peculiar emotional climate of the artist's last period. According to Vasari, during the last decade of the century Botticelli came under the influence of the Christian reform movement preached by Savonarola. The result was a search for a less sensual and more telling pictorial language, characterized by a highly expressive elongation of the figures; breathless dashing movements; convoluted line; and artificial, abstract settings. These stylistic emphases--which accord with the Florentine proto-Mannerist tendencies represented in the production of Filippino Lippi's and Piero di Cosimo's full maturity--are exemplified in Botticelli's two versions of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ (Alte Pinakothek, Munich, no. 1075 and Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, no. 155); his Calumny (Uffizi, no. 1496), and his Stories From the Life of Saint Zenobius (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, no. 9; National Gallery, London, nos. 3918-1319; and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, no. 11-98). [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Horne, Herbert. Alessandro Filipepi, Commonly Called Sandro Botticelli. London, 1908. (Italian ed. by C. Canova, Firenze, 1986; Appendix III by C. Canova, London, 1987)
Bode, Wilhelm. Sandro Botticelli. Berlin, 1921.
Yashiro, Yukio. Sandro Botticelli. 3 vols. London and Boston, 1925.
Mesnil, Jacques. Botticelli. Paris, 1938.
Salvini, Roberti. Tutta la pittura del Botticelli. 2 vols. Milan, 1958.
Lightbown, Ronald. Sandro Botticelli. 2 vols. London, 1978.
Horne, Herbert P. Alessandro Filipepi, Commonly Called Sandro Botticelli. Ed. and trans. Caterina Caneva. 3 vols. Florence, 1986-1987.
Pons, Nicoletta. Botticelli. Milan, 1989.
Canova, Caterina. Botticelli. Catalogo completo. Florence, 1990.
Sandro Botticelli. Dipinti e disegni de le Divina Commediea. Exh. cat. Scuderi Papali, Rome. Milan, 2000.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 145-146.

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